Given the current situation regarding Coronavirus, I wanted to use my message this month to talk about the dangers and what we can do as a community in the knowledge that the situation has probably changed many times since I wrote this. Obviously, I am not a medical professional and cannot offer scientific advice, but I have noticed something which Jewish wisdom can speak to. Of course we have all read about how many people flu kills, that’s not up for debate. It’s more that Coronavirus can be transmitted so quickly and easily and, even more importantly affects those who are already vulnerable/sick disproportionately.
As a rabbi, since Coronavirus, under certain circumstances, can be fatal, it is incumbent upon me to mention that Pikuach Nefesh, the saving of life, is one of, if not the most, important principles in Judaism. Anything we can do to save even one life, we should do. This principle should be wedded to the idea, of our Prophets, that we look after the most vulnerable in society. Traditionally, that meant the widow, the orphan, the stranger in our midst. Looking after the vulnerable is a measure of how moral a society is and actually how strong a foundation a society has. In the context of the Coronavirus, the vulnerable are those who are most at risk.
It means that, even if we are doing ok, others might be in harm’s way. We have a duty to look after each other. Much of the advice being put out there by public agencies might not be one hundred per cent relevant to you, if you’re not a senior or sick but you might, unknowingly, transmit the virus to someone else for whom it would be a real problem.
Secondly, by the time you read this, we are in a situation where folks have to isolate themselves. Please know that we will find a way to be in touch with you by using technology. If we are not able to meet as a community family at Temple Sinai, down the line, we will still have a number of ways to connect and support each other until the problem is alleviated. You will not be alone, you will be part of the congregation wherever you are physically located. Just reach out and make sure we know if you need help. Any message left on our voicemail will be checked and responded to, we promise you that. If you need me directly, you can also try 702 277 6876.
Don’t forget, even if you are physically alone, you are not spiritually or emotionally isolated. In the Talmud (Tractate Yoma 75a), the Rabbis comment on the verse in Proverbs: “If there is care in a man’s heart, let him quash it [yashḥena]” (Proverbs 12:25). Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi dispute the verse’s meaning. One said: He should forcefully push it [yasḥena] out of his mind. One who worries should banish his concerns from his thoughts. And one said: It means he should tell [yesiḥena] others his concerns, which will lower his anxiety”.
In other words, you could ignore your anxieties or push them away, but the healthy thing is to confront them and, more importantly, share them with others. We often take community for granted. In this scenario, we are ever more aware of the support of the community family, will facilitate it, temporarily in a new way, and cherish it when we return to each other.
So, as the Coronavirus situation develops, let’s all think of those at risk, not just of our individual situation, in order so save life and protect the vulnerable. Let’s draw on the strength and resources of our community to raise us up in a time of trial. Eternal One, Source of all Life. Shelter us, comfort us, give us strength.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen